Calydonian Boar

Calydonian Boar

The Calydonian Boar is one of the monsters of Greek mythology that had to be overcome by heroes of the Olympian age. Sent by Artemis to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia because its king failed to honor her in his rites to the gods, it was killed in the Calydonian Hunt, in which many male heroes took part, but also a powerful woman, Atalanta, who won its hide by first wounding it with an arrow. This outraged some of the men, with tragic results.

The Importance of this Hunt in Greek Mythology and Art

The Calydonian Boar is one of the chthonic monsters in Greek mythology, each set in a specific locale. Sent by Artemis to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia, it met its end in the Calydonian Hunt, in which all the heroes of the new age pressed to take part, with the exception of Heracles, who vanquished his Goddess-sent boar separately: see Erymanthian Boar. Since the mythic event drew together many heroes ["Bibliotheke"1.8.2] —among whom were many who were venerated as progenitors of their local ruling houses among tribal groups of Hellenes into Classical times—the Calydonian Boar hunt offered a natural subject in classical art, for it was redolent with the web of myth that gathered around its protagonists on other occasions, around their half-divine descent and their offspring. Like the quest for the Golden Fleece ("Argonautica") or the Trojan War that took place the following generation, the Calydonian Hunt is one of the nodes in which much Greek myth comes together. Both Homer [Phoinix's long digression on Meleager and the war before Calydon embodies many parallel's with the War of Troy: they are identified and analyzed by S. C. R. Swain, "A Note on Iliad 9.524-99: The Story of Meleager", "The Classical Quarterly" New Series, 38.2 (1988), pp. 271-276.] and Hesiod and their listeners were aware of the details of this myth, but no surviving complete account exists: some papyrus fragments found at Oxyrhynchus are all that survive of Stesichorus' telling; [Strabo, referring to events of the Hunt, does remark "as the poet says" ("Geography" 10.3.6).] the myth repertory called "Bibliotheke" ("The Library") contains the gist of the tale, and before that the Roman poet Ovid told the story in some colorful detail in his Metamorphoses. [Xenophon, "Cynegetica" x provides some details of boar-hunting in reality; other classical sources related to boar hunting are assembled in J. Aymard, "Essai sur les chasses romaines" (Paris 1951) pp 297-329.]

The Story of the Hunt

King Oeneus ("wine man") of Calydon, an ancient city of west-central Greece north of the Gulf of Patras, held annual sacrifices to the gods. One year the king forgot to include the Great Artemis in his offerings ("Iliad" ix.933). Insulted, Artemis loosed the biggest, most ferocious boar imaginable on the countryside of Calydon. It rampaged throughout the countryside, destroying vineyards and crops, forcing people to take refuge inside the city walls (Ovid), where they began to starve.

Oeneus sent messengers out to look for the best hunters in Greece, offering them the boar's pelt and tusks as a prize. [The pelt remained a trophy at the temple of Tegea, which was enriched with prominent reliefs of the Calydonian Hunt, in which the Boar took the central place in the composition. The temple, however, was dedicated not to Artemis, but to that other Virgin Goddess, Athena Alea]

Among those who responded were some of the Argonauts, Oeneus' own son Meleager, and, remarkably for the Hunt's eventual success, one woman— the huntress Atalanta, the "indomitable", who had been suckled by Artemis as a she-bear and raised as a huntress, a proxy for Artemis herself (Kerenyi; Ruck and Staples). Artemis appears to have been divided in her motives, for it was also said that she had sent the young huntress because she knew her presence would be a source of division, and so it was: many of the men, led by Kepheus and Ankaios refused to hunt alongside a woman. It was the smitten Meleager who convinced them. [Euripides, fragment 520, noted by Kerenyi p. 119 and note 673.] Nonetheless it was Atalanta who first succeeded in wounding the boar with an arrow, although Meleager finished it off, and offered the prize to Atalanta, who had drawn first blood. "But the sons of Thestios, who considered it disgraceful that a woman should get the trophy where men were involved, took the skin from her, saying that it was properly theirs by right of birth, if Meleagros chose not to accept it. Outraged by this, ["He had honoured a stranger woman above them and set kinship aside," Diodorus Siculus noted.] Meleagros slew the sons of Thestios and again gave the skin to Atalanta ("Bibliotheke"). Meleager's mother, sister of Meleager's slain uncles, took the fatal brand from the chest where she had kept it (see Meleager) and threw it once more on the fire; as it was consumed, Meleager died on the spot, as the Fates had foretold. Thus Artemis achieved her revenge against King Oeneus.

During the hunt, Peleus accidentally killed his host Eurytion. In the course of the hunt and its aftermath, many of the hunters turned upon one another, contesting the spoils, and so the Goddess continued to be revenged (Kerenyi, 114): "But the goddess again made a great stir of anger and crying battle, over the head of the boar and the bristling boar’s hide, between Kouretes and the high-hearted Aitolians" (Homer, "Iliad", ix.543).

The boar's hide that was preserved in the Temple of Athena Alae at Tegea in Laconia was reputedly that of the Calydonian Boar, "rotted by age and by now altogether without bristles" by the time Pausanias saw it in the second century CE. He noted that the tusks had been taken to Rome as booty from the defeated allies of Mark Anthony by Augustus; "one of the tusks of the Calydonian boar has been broken", Pausanias reports, "but the remaining one, having a circumference of about half a fathom, [A Greek fathom— "orgyia"— was the equivalent of six "podes" each of 29.6 centimeters; the circumference of the relic at its base was about 89 centimeters; a tusk that was over 29 centimeters through could only have been a mammoth tusk or that of one of the recently-extinct European Straight-tusked Elephants.] was dedicated in the Emperor's gardens, in a shrine of Dionysos". [Pausanias, "Description of Greece" viii.47.2.] The Calydonian Hunt was the theme of the temple's main pediment.

The Hunters

The heroes who participated assembled from all over Hellas, according to Homer; [Homer, "Iliad" ix.544.] Bacchylides called them "the best of the Hellenes" [Bacchylides, "Epinikia" 5.111.]

The table lists:
*Those seen by Pausanias on the Temple of Athena at Tegea
*Those listed by Latin mythographer Hyginus ("Fabulae" 30); they include Deucalion, whose connection is unlikely.
*Those noted in Ovid's list

Notes

Bibliography

* Apollodorus, "Bibliotheke" I, VIII, 2–3;
* Homer, "Iliad", ix
* Kerenyi, Karl, 1959. "The Heroes of the Greeks" pp114ff, "et passim"
* Ovid, "Metamorphoses" VIII, 267–525.
* Ruck, Carl A.P., and Danny Staples, 1994. "The World of Classical Myth" p 196)
* Swinburne, Algernon Charles. "Atalanta in Calydon"
* [http://www.theoi.com/Ther/HusKalydonios.html Theioi.com: Hus Kaydonios:] Literary quotes


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